Al-Madina: The City
“And those who believe and do good will be the residents of Paradise. Where they will reside forever.”
- The Promise of God
Adam’s first journey across the desert was almost complete. His family had spent weeks in the wilderness, resting during the searing daylight hours, they restricted travel to the cooler nights. Sandstorms had become more common bringing reduced visibility forcing the caravan to wait for days at a time. The sluggish pace produced more opportunity for disaster, but the desolate sands were incapable of stopping those driven by the promise of Paradise.
A final moment of rest atop a sun-scorched dune, Adam wiped across his round face to remove the drizzle of sweat that gathered during the climb. Having seen no more than seven years, he could not imagine anything as magnificent. Distant dunes split to reveal an oasis of glass, steel, and concrete, Al-Madinat Al-Jannah, the City of Paradise was believed to be the greatest city mankind had ever known. Shielded behind an immense wall, hundreds of meters high stood the worlds tallest structures, their towering peaks lost beyond vision scrapping the cloudless ice-blue sky.
Being so close to the city made Adam restless. Shifting in excitement his weathered feet sank deeper into the heated sand reminding him of how dry and cracked they had become. He raised one leg from the sand, found his balance and stood on one foot until the heat forced him to change feet, a trick his grandfather taught him to help make the temperature bearable.
“Soon Maama?” Adam still enthralled by the city did not have to look to his mother. He knew she was always near.
“Yes, Habibi, soon.” Aminah Latif looked to the distance, a nurturing smile hidden behind the red folded veil that flowed across her face, “When the sun sets.”
Adam summoned his best scowl, his azure eyes glaring at the sun commanding it to set. So willful, like your father.
Matted brown camel hair rubbed against Adam’s cheek, drawing his gaze away from the day-star. “Can you see it Qaswa?” Not sure if the long grumble was a complaint, petting the camel’s side, Adam said, “We are almost there.”
Next to them, wearing a dusty thobe, a traditional white cotton garment that hung down to the ankles, Aminah’s father, Talib, studied the path ahead. The disappointment he wore was a reminder that the City offered him nothing. Talib had made the journey many times, years before he swore never to return. For him, Paradise was something more, not the illusion before him. He saw the City as a means of control, a tool to elevate no one but the Family. Necessity forced him to return, as a father he had obligations that drove him to break his oath.
“What’s the matter, Baba?” Aminah asked. The question, more of an emotional bid than to actually inquire. She knew the source of her father’s unease, and it saddened her to be the cause.
“I’m tired.” Talib feigned fatigue, “I just need some rest.”
Aminah chose not to press the matter, looking to the heavens, she allowed herself a moment of peace. As the sun began to set, the crystal blue horizon darkened, the desert sand appeared to change. She thought of her childhood studies and textbook images of a distant frozen land. If not for the relentless heat, Aminah may have found relief in the picture before her. The sand like an ice-covered ocean reflected the orange rays of a dying sun. Glory to God. So beautiful.
Aminah could never allow her self to be lost entirely, a mother, always attentive, and with the smallest of reluctance, she emerged from her solitude at the sound of Adam’s voice. His tiny finger pointed towards a large procession dressed in strange white garments that marched across a distant dune. “Maama, who are they?”
“They are the blessed ones. They have become Citizens.”
Anyone could approach Paradise, but not everyone could enter. To pass through one of the cities gates was considered a blessing very few were offered. Adam had heard many tales of Paradise, the luscious fruit waiting to be plucked, lush green gardens fed by purified water that flowed like rivers from opulent multi-tier fountains, and servants to attend to your every need, but he had never understood how one could enter the city.
Aminah smiled at Adam’s excitement. “Yes, my beloved, Citizens. We are Abeed, the slaves of the desert...”
You mean the Family. Talib slammed his walking stick. A scorpion he had watched served to vent some of his frustration. Sensing Aminah’s disapproval Talib’s checks became warm. His lack of subtlety dealing with the threat revealed more about his mood than he wanted.
Startled, Aminah took a deep breath to compose herself before she continued, “If we have the gift we can pass the test. If we pass the test, we can become Citizen’s of Paradise.”
“You mean go into the city?” Adam’s eyes widened. The possibility almost to much to comprehend.
“Yes, Habibi, into the city,” Aminah said.
“I want to be a Citizen Maama. Can I?” Adam’s eyes pleading for her consent.
Aminah crouched, protected from the abrasive sand by her black cloak abaya, her knees provided Adam with a place to rest, “If you work hard, God will notice.” There was a reverence in Aminah’s voice when she spoke of God that faded as she continued, “And maybe the Family will notice. They decide because it is their City.”
“We should do it Maama. Let’s work hard so the Family will notice. Grandfather, you too. We can all go together.” Resting his head against his mother’s chest, Adam’s exhaustion began to overtake his curiosity.
“One day, God willing!” Aminah’s words seemed to diminish Adam’s curiosity, but as sincere as she tried to appear, the words did little to calm her own heart. The truth she hid from her son weighed heavily upon her.
“God forbid,” Talib said, forgetting to control his tongue.
“Baba, please,” Aminah loved her father deeply, but his persistent opposition drained her, and with Adam’s presence, the discussion was something she preferred to avoid. They rarely spoke about Al-Madinat Al-Jannah, but when the topic arose, Adam’s prying ears became alert.
Grandfather Talib tried to hide his aversion for the City and disdain for the Family from Adam, but his impulsive nature usually got the better of him. The months of preparation for the trip provided plenty of chances for inquisitive ears to pick up on any disapproval, particularly for the Families choice of name. “A total disregard for the sanctity of tradition.” Talib would say.
Talib felt his daughter was too selective in what she shared with her son. The world was changing too fast, and the coddling would cost Adam dearly, yes he was young, but he would have to face many hard truths that she could not protect him from.
“He needs to learn Aminah,” Talib said. With a heavy sigh, he decided to continue the conversation in private. “It’s Maghrib. Time to pray,” as if speaking to the wind Talib continued, “One day ends, and a new one begins. Just as hardship ends, ease begins.”
Talib turned his back to Paradise, his heart drawn to a distant city, ancient and sacred, he prepared the sand before him, wiping a portion flat to receive his impending prostration. As he raised his hands towards his ears, Adam’s soft voice prevented him.
“Can I Grandfather, I have been practicing?” Adam exaggerated the appeal knowing Grandfather Talib’s hard attitude was not a reflection of what was in the heart. Soft and caring, Talib always yielded but not before he feigned harsh resistance making his grandson earn what he requested. Simulating a forced smile, Talib nodded granting Adam permission.
Shifting close to his Grandfather, Adam raised his hands to his ears, “Allahu ’Akbar!” God is the Greatest. Adam’s voice was melodic as it spread into the newborn night.
Aminah watched, lovingly, a smile emerged as her son’s invitation reached passing caravans. While some passed presenting their disgust as if the act of submission was some spectacle to be abolished, others responded and began to fill their camp.
Talib’s voice replaced Adam’s as the sunset prayer began, Soft and serene, the recitation brought peace to Aminah’s heart. Her frustration started to fade as the act of worship brought out deep love and respect for a father. His wisdom often forgotten, hidden behind his surly demeanour. Be kind to your parents.
The prayer ended as the night’s cool breeze began. As the camp emptied, Talib started to prepare the camels while Aminah made a final sweep of the area for any belongings that may have been missed during packing.
As Adam dreamt of becoming a Citizen and entering one of the high gates, he imagined a new home for his family, the thought made his molars visible through his smile. As if to confirm his wish, the city lights flickered bathing Paradise in brilliant radiance. Adam’s brow raised, his smile intensified until a gentle tug, pulled him from his waking dream. Aminah nudged him forward to help his grandfather, but not before he stole one final gaze. I will become a Citizen.